Saturday, 13 July 2019


Who inspired you to take up the drums?
The inspiration came from a number of sides. Family, friends, school, drummers, bands. Initially I was interested in guitar as that’s what my Dad and brother were into. In primary school, I had an American friend named Boogie Walker whose older brother played the drums and I distinctly remember having a moment of realisation on seeing the drums in their shed, seeing him play and thinking I needed it in my life. In secondary school, I came across music rooms on an open day with people playing and jamming, the drums immediately drew my attention. My family are big music guys and we were given instruments after showing an interest. There was always encouragement from my parents, my Dad inspired a tangible musical influence and my mother has a creative streak, a tactile nature, which feeds into the process of developing a love for all aspects of drumming.

Who are your favourite players?
LevonHelm(The Band), Jay Bellerose(Joe Henry, Raising Sand, T-Bone Burnett, Ray LaMontagne), Brian Blade(Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois), Glenn Kotche(Wilco) have all had a huge influence on me over the years. Levon especially, in fact, I would go as far to say he completely informed my development as a drummer. The spirit in his playing, the dedication to the music. The moment. His book ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, was a life changer. Through a mutual friend, Joe Henry, I came into close contact with Jay Bellerose, leading to borrowing drums from him while on tour in the US. Jay’s generosity and sharing of knowledge was very influential. I tuned into attitude, approach and philosophy of drummers in a big way, which is part of the whole picture. The drummers I mentioned spoke to me on a deeper level. Recently I’ve been digging in to some more contemporary drummers, such as Valentina Magaletti and Eli Keszler. Completely expressive, yet musical in their approach to drums, integrating manipulation to great effect.

Your favourite songs or albums?
There’s a song called ‘Maudy la Lune’ by Bill Fay, that might be my favourite song. I go through phases with different songs but that always comes back. The feeling I get or the feeling it gives more so, is uplifting, romantic, desperate and so close to what he’s trying to convey, I always find it intoxicating. ‘Shinzo No Tobira’ by Japanese band Mariah comes close too. Again, conveying so much relatable emotion, regardless of being sung in Iranian, that will get consumed by the feeling.

Albums that come to mind that have sustained or had a meaningful impact on me; The Band - (Brown Album), Kate and Anna McGarrigle – (self titled), Radiohead – OK Computer, Van Morrison - Beautiful Vision, The Knife – Silent Shout, Talk Talk – Colour of Spring. Each of those albums have a relevance that I can associate with musical or personal significance. They have all influenced my drumming in some shape or form. Steve Gadd is really musical on the McGarrigle's one, Phil Selway (Radiohead) and Lee Harris (Talk Talk) playing vital roles on decade defining albums. The Knife’s programming and ability to swing electronically had a huge impact on me too.

What’s your current drum gear setup?
With Villagers I’m using a 70’s Slingerland kit, which has a 20” kick and concert toms, giving a tighter, West Coast, Hal Blaine sound – I absolutely love it. I’ve wanted genuine concert toms for a while too so this kit was irresistible when I spotted it on Rusty Drums. The cymbals are Sabian, 14” Vanguard hats and a 21” Vanguard crash/ride that really lights up the room when introduced. Alongside that is a 22” Artisan Vault Ride and a 22” AA ‘fierce’ ride with rivets – both are super dry and dark and I’ve had each for some time now so they’ve really settled into themselves.We have a good understanding at this point. I’ve settled on Vater sticks in the last few years, particularly the maple series - the sound they extract from the instrument and the balance while playing feels great to me. SPDSX is a staple, which is paired with 80's era Simmons pads. Remo Powerstroke 4 drumheads for a preferred warm, deep tone.They sound set as soon as they go on. Snare Weights have been really useful for tone, with the natural, leather element adding something unique and malleable to the sound.
Lisa Hannigan’s setup requires a more open sound so I use my Velvet model Ayotte kit with her. Features of the setup are 22” kick with no hole on the resonant side and a walnut rimmed Ayotte Custom snare, which is my most prized possession. I was lucky enough to get that kit and that snare in Music Maker, Dublin when they used to stock Ayotte – pretty special sounding drums. I use 16” hats with Lisa, a hybrid of a Sabian Stage Crash on the bottom and super dead crash on top that I found in a music shop in the US, I always dug how they play off each other. There is lots of room for sonic exploration and expression with Lisa.

You’re very busy with both Villagers and Lisa Hannigan, how do you manage your work / life balance?
Coming to terms with the nature of playing and touring is a big part of it for me. I’ve always considered it a privilege! It's all about opening yourself up to interchangeable situations, navigating that requires self-efficacy and an ability to think ahead, while letting things happen naturally.

Can you tell us what projects are on the horizon? 
For a number of years, I have had access to a space in the National Concert Hall, Dublin as part of a residency of sorts. In that time, I have been developing compositions for drums and percussion, which I will present at a concert in September alongside the other current residents, James Vincent McMorrow, Paul Noonan and Glenn Keating. I'm really excited by the prospect. My favourite thing about that building(NCH) is the way it sounds so I invited some Irish musicians to collaborate and record in different parts, building - stairwells, marbled halls, a former morgue, cavernous spaces…I’m really happy with the results. An album of those recordings will see the light of day later this year. Developing programming skills has been really useful so I work on and off with RTE on certain productions, ‘Story of Hip Hop’, ‘DJ Jenny Greene and the RTECO’, ‘Classical Collision’.
I also started a part time degree in counselling and psychotherapy last year so I’ll be focusing on that as much as I can too! Doing the degree felt like a good opportunity to challenge myself and do something different, with the intention of acquiring the relevant skills.

And finally Ross, what advice would you give someone wanting to take up drumming?
There is no right or wrong. Try not to be hard on yourself, try not to compare yourself to the next drummer. Take your time! Listen to yourself and decide what makes it enjoyable for you. Let that guide you and become an integral part of the playing. Channel the good and the bad in your life and take the opportunity to express yourself. Have fun with it, in whatever form that takes.

Photo credit; black and white shot is by Ruth Medjber

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